Probation botched for suspect in child's murder

March 20, 1991|By Suzanne Wooton

A 29-year-old child sexual abuser who got out of prison just last summer went totally unsupervised by probation officials for more than three months before his arrest Feb. 19 in the sodomy-murder of a 7-year-old East Baltimore boy.

The lack of supervision was apparently the result of administrative bungling within the state Division of Parole and Probation, according to a review of court and police records and interviews with probation workers.

After serving time for sexually abusing two girls, Stephone Jonathan Williams left prison in June under the strictest conditions for probation. By November, however, the division lost contact with him after his case was inexplicably dumped into the lowest category of supervision.

"There was a failure to communicate," Pamela Pennix, the most recent agent to handle his case, said yesterday. "It's just a mess."

"There are too many cases and we can't control all of those we have," said Ms. Pennix, who has worked in the probation office for 17 years. She declined to answer other questions.

From November until his Feb. 19 arrest, the division had no contact with Williams whatsoever. That day,he was charged with the murder of Rodney James Champy Jr., a second-grader at Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School, whose mother found him strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted at their sparsely furnished apartment in an East Baltimore housing project.

Rodney was attacked shortly after his mother left in the early morning of Feb. 15 for her job at a nearby laundry.

Homicide detectives described the murder as one of the most vicious in recent memory. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who attended Rodney's funeral, said the entire city mourned the loss of the child, whose mother had recently moved to Baltimore from Queens in New York City.

"The charge [against Williams] is particularly bad and warrants close review," Susan Kaskie, spokeswoman for the Division of Parole and Probation, said yesterday.

The division has refused to provide details of how Williams' probation was handled pending completion of the review. "Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken if it is warranted," Ms. Kaskie said.

An examination by The Sun of police and court records reveals that the case simply slipped through cracks in the parole and probation system.

In July 1989, Williams pleaded guilty to two counts of sexually abusing his girlfriend's 4- and 7-year-old daughters. In a written confession, he admitted to having sex with the children.

After extensive plea bargaining, two second-degree sex charges were dropped and Williams pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with eight suspended, and was allowed to apply eight months he'd already served in jail.

His two-year sentence would have ended in November 1990, after which he was supposed to spend five years on probation. But with 122 days' credit for good behavior or other reasons, Williams left the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown June 19, 1990.

Because he was released before his sentence ended in November, and because he was a sexual offender considered a high risk for committing similar crimes, probation policy required that he be intensely supervised for at least six months. Initially, that meant three contacts a month with a probation agent, including a monthly face-to-face meeting, according to Ms. Kaskie.

After leaving the Hagerstown prison, Williams was assigned to parole agent Deborah Richardson in Baltimore. Ms. Richardson said yesterday that she saw Williams once a month between June and late October and had tried unsuccessfully to contact him other times.

In November, when his original sentence would have ended, Williams' supervision was transferred to Ms. Pennix, a probation agent. In preparation, the division sent him a letter Oct. 27 telling him to report to Ms. Pennix at her office on East Mount Royal Avenue Nov. 2. Within a week, the envelope came back unopened and marked "Return to Sender -- No Such Street Number," according to a probation report filed with the court March 2, several weeks after Williams' arrest.

After leaving prison, Williams stayed with his mother in the 1700 block of East Oliver Street and listed that as his address, police said. But even though the house was less than a mile from the probation office, the probation agent apparently made no further effort to contact Williams. (Police said they had no difficulty finding the row house when they obtained a search warrant after Rodney's murder.)

In the meantime, the case had been transferred at the Mount Royal office from intensive supervision to an administrative category, the lowest level of supervision and normally one designated for probationers who have been crime-free for two years after their release from prison. It is not clear who made the transfer or whether the probation agents were even aware that Williams required intensive supervision.

Among 30,000 probation cases in Baltimore, the Williams case became one of the 471 for which Ms. Pennix was ultimately responsible. None of these was a case requiring intensive supervision, she said.

In December, Ms. Pennix went on leave for five weeks, according to the probation report, and there is no indication that the case was assigned to another agent. When she came back, the returned letter was placed in her basket "among other mail to be worked on."

"There has been no contact with the subject since receiving this case in an administrative category of supervision," Ms. Pennix wrote in the report.

Even in the lowest level of supervision, Williams should have reported initially to Ms. Pennix within 30 days, according to division regulations. Failure to report should have prompted his probation officer to seek a warrant for his arrest within 30 days.

In Williams' case, however, no warrant was sought until two weeks after his arrest in connection with Rodney Champy's death.

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